Faith & Thought

Embrace by the Holy Spirit Can Lead Us to Become Saints

As I mentioned in last week’s column, Bernard Cooke was the best teacher I have ever had. Bishop Bryan McEntegart sent me to Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1965 after I had obtained my master’s degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. 

I never found out why the bishop chose Marquette. On the day that I arrived at Marquette to register, I found out that for the 30 credits required to get a doctorate in philosophy, a student could take six credits in some other discipline. 

I had heard Bernard Cooke lecture at least once in New York and thought the possibility of taking two three-credit courses with him could be a special experience. I told the chairperson of the philosophy department that I wanted to take six credits in theology. 

I did not tell him that I wanted to take six credits in Bernard Cooke. The chairperson told me that taking six credits in theology was not a good idea and he recommended that I take a special course in philosophy that the department was promoting. 

At that time I was very docile but, perhaps it was the Holy Spirit guiding me, I said that I preferred to take the six credits in theology. I am not exaggerating when I claim that the two courses with Cooke changed my life. 

In his book, “Power and the Spirit of God: Toward an Experience-Based Pneumatology” (Oxford University Press, Inc., 2004), Cooke offers some illuminating insights on the meaning of a human embrace as background for reflecting on the marvelous, mysterious truth that we are embraced by the Holy Spirit. Cooke writes the following: 

“On many occasions, an embrace can be completely in silence; it speaks for itself. Indeed in many situations, as on the occasion of consoling a bereaved friend at a death, it substitutes for one’s inability to find any words. But on other occasions, it is enriched by words whose sincerity and deeper meaning are conveyed by the embrace itself. There seems to exist a natural link between deeply personal conversation and reaching out to touch another. 

“If one looks carefully and reflectively at the experience of embracing another, it becomes evident that the very heart of the action is the ‘spiritual embracing’ that is taking place. One is reaching out as a person, truly giving oneself as the subject he or she is” (p. 184). 

Commenting on the divine embrace, the embrace in which God’s Spirit embraces us, Cooke writes the following: 

“In experiencing and accepting this divine embrace, there are two distinct responses. From what we might call the ‘receptive’ side, there is the awe and openness that accompanies being loved. 

“This is not automatic; it engages a person’s freedom because the believer must overcome the reluctance of apparent dependence and be willing to live with the implications of such a relationship. On the ‘active’ side, the experience is one of being empowered to share ministerially in the divine outreaching by loving service to others” (p. 185). 

During the past few years I have gone from being someone who for most of his life never hugged anyone except his immediate family to someone who now has the habit of frequently hugging people. Why the previous hesitancy? 

Perhaps a latent Puritanism or even a Manichean tendency? Perhaps a fear of expressing emotions physically? Perhaps an unhealthy view of the body? 

I don’t know the real reasons I hesitated to hug, but I think it was a hesitancy I shared with many of my male contemporaries. Now I feel very free about hugging and equally free about being hugged. Often an embrace or hug can say what may not be said adequately in words. 

I think Cooke’s comments about hugging are wonderful. I confess that the idea of the Holy Spirit embracing me is absolutely beautiful and profoundly touching. 

If an embrace from another human being can enrich us, encourage us, even help us greatly through very difficult moments in our lives, what can an embrace from the Holy Spirit accomplish in us? 

Of course almost immediately I want to suggest salvation or redemption. An embrace by the Holy Spirit, if we accept it and allow it to affect us profoundly, can lead us to become saints. 

I want to stop typing for a few moments to reflect further on this almost incredible truth. We, sinners that we are, finite creatures that we are, selfish and self-centered as we often are, are embraced by the Holy Spirit who is Infinite Love. God puts our deepest wishes and desires to shame. 

Except that God has revealed His love of us, what human person could have imagined the Holy Spirit embracing us? 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.